NEW YORK -- Given two-plus weeks to fatten up against some of the Majors’ worst teams, the Mets took a long and winding road back to .500. In winning a 4-3 game over the Tigers on Sunday, New York finished 9-6 over what will likely be its easiest patch of
NEW YORK -- Given two-plus weeks to fatten up against some of the Majors’ worst teams, the Mets took a long and winding road back to .500. In winning a 4-3 game over the Tigers on Sunday, New York finished 9-6 over what will likely be its easiest patch of schedule this season: 15 consecutive games against sub-.500 teams.
Within that stretch, the Mets lost five straight in Washington and Miami, before rebounding for six victories in seven contests against the Nationals and Tigers at Citi Field. They’ll take it. When Edwin Díaz’s final pitch -- perhaps a bit off the outside corner -- buzzed in for a called strike to end Sunday’s game, the Mets found themselves at .500 for the first time since May 14. They haven’t been above that mark since May 2.
“You win series, you’re going to make the playoffs at the very least,” third baseman Todd Frazier said.
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The final victory came largely courtesy of Zack Wheeler, who delivered 7 1/3 innings of three-run ball and finished 2-for-3 at the plate. After allowing three runs over the game’s first three innings, Wheeler retired 13 straight from the third through seventh innings. He handed things off in the eighth to Jeurys Familia, who struck out both batters he faced, and Diaz, who worked a shaky ninth for his 13th save.
By that point, the Mets held a one-run lead thanks to Todd Frazier’s RBI bunt single past a defensive overshift, and Adeiny Hechavarria’s three-run homer. It was a complete victory, the kind the Mets needed.
“I think they just willed it to happen,” manager Mickey Callaway said.
Only time will tell if this was a preview of things to come. The Mets’ schedule grows notably more difficult from here, both in the short term -- four games this week against the first-place Dodgers, starting Monday versus three-time Cy Young Award winner Clayton Kershaw -- and the long term. The Mets are scheduled to end the first half with 25 consecutive games against teams currently above .500.
Certainly, as they departed New York on Sunday, the Mets did so with plenty of questions still surrounding the club. But they at least learned quite a bit about themselves during a 6-1 homestand at Citi Field.
1) Mickey Callaway is the manager for now
Scholars may long debate the meaning of “foreseeable future,” the phrase general manager Brodie Van Wagenen used in committing to Callaway at a press conference last week. When pressed, Van Wagenen would not guarantee Callaway the rest of his contract, which runs through 2020, nor even the rest of this season. But Callaway is at least no longer in a place where he must wonder daily if his job is in jeopardy.
A better question may be to what extent Callaway will adapt to present circumstances. Already, the manager has abandoned several ideas he laid out earlier this season -- most notably, strict usage for Diaz. Callaway called on Diaz in the eighth inning of a game for the first time Saturday and, while that move did not work in the Mets’ favor, it points to what figures to be more liberal deployment of Diaz in the future.
Simply put, the Mets realize now that to win, they must be flexible. If that means using their best reliever for four-out saves, so be it. If it means starting natural infielder J.D. Davis in left, or even giving first baseman Dominic Smith reps at that position, they’ll do so. At this point, a Mets team desperate to stay in contention has little choice.
2) The outfield is in flux
Michael Conforto returned to the Mets’ outfield Sunday after missing nine games due to a concussion, but the rest of the cavalry appears further behind. While the Mets do not consider Jeff McNeil’s hamstring strain serious, he is not eligible to come off the injured list until June 1. Brandon Nimmo will be sidelined longer as he recovers from a bulging cervical disc and the effects of whiplash.
In the interim, the Mets are making due with a combination of Davis, Carlos Gomez, Juan Lagares and Aaron Altherr. They may try Smith in the outfield again at some point, and could call up Matt Kemp from the Minors if he proves worthy of a promotion.
“We’ve been harping on our depth all offseason, trying to build it as best we could,” Callaway said. “It kept things from spiraling out of control.”
3) They believe they’re never out of games
Upon arriving at Citi Field this week and becoming the third player this season to homer in his first career Mets at-bat, Altherr commented that “there’s some kind of magic going on around here.” Supernatural help aside, the Mets have done well in importing veterans such as Gomez, who hit a three-run homer Thursday and made a pair of highlight-reel catches over the weekend, and Hechavarria, whose go-ahead, three-run homer Sunday was his second in three games.
“I’m not a power hitter, but that just happened to go out,” said Hechavarria, who is filling in at second base for Robinson Cano. “I just try to do my job to help the team any way possible.”
For the Mets, that typically means late. Over their last six games, the Mets have taken a lead in their final turn at-bat on four occasions. The other two games featured one-run margins in the ninth.
“I know how we’ve been talking about our potential, and what we can do, and what we’re capable of doing,” Smith said. “I felt like this week was just a testament of that.”
Anthony DiComo has covered the Mets for MLB.com since 2007. Follow him on Twitter @AnthonyDiComo, Instagram and Facebook.